Life isn’t fair is another one of those clichés that’s a cliché for a reason. At the end of the day, it is what it is. One cliché at a time.
But if anything approaching sports karma exists, the Raiders can’t leave Oakland. Not now. Not when things are finally looking up.
If we’re talking four years ago, or maybe ten, it would’ve made some sense. The Raiders were a blackout machine (TV, not tailgates — OK, maybe both). Now they’re one of the most fun teams in football, playing in the most entertaining division of a league that’s supposedly dying.
Why are ratings down for NFL games? A million possible reasons are floating around — not safe enough, too safe, too many flags and replay reviews, the gravitational pull of Trump v. Clinton, domestic violence and the league’s tone-deaf reactions to DV cases involving players, and over-saturation. But the NFL also created a game built around and dependent upon quarterback play. Too few good quarterbacks exist, and a lot of them (four of the top-10, it’s pretty safe to say) are 34 or older.
That’s why the Raiders are in such a unique place, able to win games on the road and close contests, with such a bright future ahead. Derek Carr is 25, and one could easily argue he’s the quarterback you’d choose if you were tasked with starting a team from scratch and the goal was to accumulate more wins than any other franchise over the next decade.
Today’s opponent, led by Jameis Winston (16-for-32, 180 yards, 2 TD), would probably rather have Carr (40-for-59, 513 yards 4 TD) if they were being completely honest with themselves. Carr has repeatedly shown an ability to make the right play when the game is in the balance, and that was on display today at the end of regulation and in overtime.
Amari Cooper had a tremendous statistical performance (12 catches, 173 yards and a touchdown), but he dropped an absolute dime from Carr near the end of regulation that would’ve given the Raiders a chance for an easy game-winning field goal. Carr said no problem, I’ll do this myself, and ran 13 yards to set up Sebastian Janikowski … who missed from 50 yards.
First drive in overtime: Carr and Michael Crabtree hooked up on a catch-and-run that put the Raiders at Tampa’s 23-yard line. But on the very next down, Cooper decided to smack a would-be tackler across the top of his helmet. His decision set the Raiders back 15 yards. Jalen Richard got five yards back, Donald Penn handed them back on a false start (penalties would’ve been the prevailing theme of the day if the Raiders lost), and Janikowski missed a 52-yard try.
So it made sense that the final play of this game wasn’t a field goal from one of the two struggling kickers who attended Florida State — it was a 41-yard scoring pass from Carr to Seth Roberts, who bounced off two defenders in the middle of the field and waltzed into the end zone. With the 30-24 win, the Raiders moved to 6-2 and set up for a clash against another 6-2 team … the Broncos. On Sunday night. In Oakland.
This should be the beginning, not the end
Games like these, appointment viewing-type contests in which the Raiders battle a rival for AFC West superiority, will occur regularly in Oakland in the coming seasons, regardless of what happens. Even if they’re allowed to move to Sin City, a stadium wouldn’t be ready for another few years. But franchise quarterbacks play well into their 30s and rarely leave once a team realizes what they have. Oakland deserves to watch Carr play all of his games in their city (sorry, “Town”).
The Raiders are 5-0 on the road, but their home fans were probably hungrier for a team like this than any other set of supporters in the league after what they’ve had to stomach from 2003 until the 2015 NFL Draft. Carr is a boss, the quarterback most likely to grab the “most valuable” baton from Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — maybe as soon as this season! Not only that, but he’s the Raiders’ first homegrown franchise signal caller since Kenny Stabler.
It’s enough to make you forget that the 2016 Raiders get flagged more often than those Al Davis teams of yore that caused fans to cry about the NFL conspiring against the Raiders.
Hopefully the league can help the fans this time around, by going against a Davis family member’s wishes once again. Mark Davis really wants to go to Las Vegas, where they’d become the NFL’s ultimate gypsy team — a franchise with its true fans stuck in two California regions, playing in front of a crowds dominated by high rollers and fans of the road team.
49ers have left the door wiiiiiiide open
Now is the time for someone to make it happen in Oakland. The 49ers are against the ropes, playing in a stadium that looks unfinished and feels sterile, in an area that otherwise consists of office parks and an amusement park for teenagers. The Niners have no prospects for the future, mostly because they have no quarterback worth the price of admission (let alone eight figures per year).
The Raiders have a franchise quarterback on a team that should only get better. Oakland’s gentrification bothers many, but it’s a sign that money is flowing in. The population in the greater East Bay is larger than the Las Vegas metro area, and plenty of Raiders fans reside in the North Bay, Peninsula and South Bay as well. The Ronnie Lott-led group may not have all the answers right now, but casino big-shot Sheldon Adelson isn’t ready to give the Raiders what they want. Well, other than the chance to be his tenants in a new stadium. (“They want so much,” he said. “So I told my people, ‘Tell them I could live with the deal, I could live without the deal. Here’s the way it’s gonna go down. If they don’t want it, bye-bye,'” he said.)
Davis is a rarity, an NFL owner who regularly gets pushed around. Based on how he was treated when he wanted to share a stadium in Carson with Dean Spanos, what are the chances of Davis getting a three-quarters majority of NFL owners to vote in favor of his cause this time?
However, this post isn’t about logistics or politics. It’s about the feeling this team provides when they’re in action, mostly due to the quarterback’s ascension, and how a long-suffering fan base doesn’t deserve to have this team ripped away. Not after so many years of bad free agency deals, worse draft picks, and suffering since 2002.
Maybe Carr can be the Raiders’ Jim Harbaugh, the momentum-building force needed to get rich investors to work together to create a new home in the region where this team was born in 1960. Except, in this case, the Raiders would theoretically keep Carr around and the stadium would actually enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the product.